Every yarn that involves crime is crime fiction to me. I expect others will suggest some arbitrary level of centrality to the plot, or some such, but I take the simpler route, perhaps because I like to think of Mordecai Richler as a crime writer. Many of his books are not about crime, but almost all reflect on some element of criminality among their characters.
His point is that the success of characters, especially those who have been defined as outsiders, will involve and probably require criminal activity and often, as success is achieved, it is discovered that those who have gone before, the so-called respectable members of society, have engaged and sometimes still engage in similar activities.
It's in the nature of power that those who achieve it will enact laws to protect and maintain their status, outlawing the activities of groups they see as threats. Of course the techniques one uses oneself to achieve success are the most quickly recognized as threatening. In North America these laws often revolve around protecting property. They also affect notions of morality. Anyone or group with ambitions to advance their own freedom to achieve similar successes will almost inevitably run into conflict with these laws at some point.
To me, any narrative that doesn't recognize this is romantic. Not that I can't enjoy a good romance, but recognizing the willingness, or need to circumvent legality is important to me for the story to be relevant, and so I define any such story as crime writing. Fiction reflecting the fact that most people fail to achieve success because of these laws and/or the motivations behind them is, to me, noir.
BTW- In Canada the decendents of fur traders and couriers, French, Scottish, English, Irish or whatever, and the native women they frequently took as companions when away from their "white" home bases (and sometimes wives) are officially recognized as an organized and identifiable ethnicity and culture, known as Métis. Shortly after Confederation they attempted to establish their own, independent nation in the Red River area, bringing them into conflict with early settlers in the area. The movement was squashed by a hastily organized expeditionary force sent out from Ontario, hastening the inclusion of Manitoba as a province of Canada, and leading to the establishment of the famous "Mounties". The leader of this "uprising," Louis Riel, fled south to the US. He was hung years later after attempting something similar in Saskatchewan. At the time many thought him mad, and he may have been, but today he's also often recognized as a Father of Confederation.
That's not only a noir story, but should serve to kill the laughs about French names for mixed racial heritages.
Not that they should be killed,
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 9:55 AM
Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: Auster as on-topic
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org, "Juri Nummelin"
> I think that at least books like CITY OF GLASS, GHOSTS and THE
> should be included as on-topic in Rara-Avis. And of course his
> SQUEEZE PLAY.
> (On a Western list, one might also discuss MOON PALACE.)
My comment was not about his being on topic but about his inclusion in
a "best of crime literature" list. In my opinion he does not cut the
mustard for best of crime literature. Too many guys have written crime
fiction, too many excellent writers. Take old Thomas Dewey, whose
novel Every Bet's a Sure Thing I reread in one sitting... that is an
excellent crime novel, an enduring one. Dewey may be a forgotten
figure and Auster a very present one, but for crime fiction, I take
Dewey. And Prather, too, of course. The pulse of a popular genre is a
delicate thing, it's like a literary jazz. Either an author has it or
he doesn't have it.
This brings up the question: is any book where there are crimes crime
fiction? What do we mean by crime fiction?
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